Second in NYT & USAT bestselling author Julie Ann Walker’s new romantic suspense series featuring former navy SEALs
The former SEALs of The Deep Six return in a sizzling series from New York Times and USA Today bestselling author Julie Ann Walker.
A COVERT MISSION
Maddy Powers’s life revolves around cocktail parties, political fundraisers, and charity events — but she can’t forget the daring former SEAL who appropriated her father’s yacht a few months ago … or the scorching kiss they shared before he disappeared into the deep blue sea.
SPARKS A FLAMING DESIRE
Bran Pallidino carries a dark secret behind his lady-killer eyes — one that keeps him from pursuing a serious relationship with Maddy. But when she’s taken hostage during a trip to the Dry Tortugas, the men of Deep Six Salvage drop their treasure hunt for a sunken galleon and embark on a dangerous mission to save Maddy.
WITH EARTH-SHATTERING REPERCUSSIONS
As they fight her merciless kidnappers, they discover this isn’t a simple hostage situation, but something far more sinister. Passion boils between Bran and Maddy, but what good is putting their hearts on the line if they don’t survive the dawn?
Julie Ann Walker is the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of the Black Knights Inc. romantic suspense series. You can find her on her bicycle along the lake shore in Chicago or blasting away at her keyboard, trying to wrangle her capricious imagination into submission. She lives in Chicago, IL.
Maddy silently screamed.
She’d already been held hostage once. Surely that was enough for any one lifetime. And later—that is if she lived through this and a later—she planned to have a very stern conversation with Fate or Destiny or the Big Man Upstairs, whichever one of them was responsible for this horseshit. But for right now, she had to concentrate everything she had on staying strong for the girls. Staying calm so they would cue off her and stay strong too.
Oh, and she also needed to keep from revisiting the corned beef sandwich she’d had for lunch all over the beach…
When Louisa glanced at her, Maddy rolled in her lips and nodded, hoping to convey confidence. confidence, but confidence nonetheless. She must have come close to hitting the mark because Louisa dipped her chin, squared her shoulders, and tightened her hold around Sally Mae, who was quietly sniffling and trying her best not to flat-out cry.
“Stop blubbering!” one of the four men who’d stormed the island thundered at Sally Mae. For a couple of seconds after the fishing vessel dropped anchor, Maddy and Ranger Rick had simply stood there like a couple of lollygaggers wondering who the new arrivals could be. Well…had stood there wondering. Something had told Maddy it wasn’t Bran. And since it Bran, any curiosity she’d had about the newcomers was overshadowed by the large crack of disappointment that opened up in her heart.
That large crack of disappointment had quickly been replaced by a huge fissure of terror when, through the gathering darkness, she’d watched four hooded figures board a dinghy and zoom toward her, white water rooster-tailing from their outboard engine and the sound of gunfire echoing across the beach as they aimed their weapons in the air.
“Get to the ranger’s station!” Rick had yelled.
Despite a heart frozen with fear, Maddy had sprung into action, racing after him to the spot on the beach where the girls had been in the process of setting up their gear. She’d herded them in front of her on the mad dash to the tiny cottage at the end of the beach. They’d just piled through the front door—Rick making a beeline for the satellite phone in the corner—when the scary-looking masked gunmen wielding even scarier-looking machine guns burst in and ordered them all to halt.
“Run!” Maddy had screamed to the teens, throwing herself in the line of fire as the girls raced for the back door. But Louisa was the only one who made it out of the cottage. After a ten-minute chase around the tiny island, she’d been marched back to join the group already under guard. A few minutes after that, the gunmen had paraded them all back to the beach. Now the girls were huddled together, kept in a tight mass by two of the balaclava-wearing assailants.
Maddy wanted to scream, rage boiling in her chest like a teakettle getting ready to blow. But she wisely kept her mouth shut because a third gunman was keeping her dead center in his sights. As for the fourth masked man? Well, he was busy aiming the business end of his weapon at Rick.
“On your knees!” Masked Man Four yelled at Rick. “Get on your fucking knees!” He punctuated his order by jabbing Rick in the kidney with the barrel of his weapon, causing Rick to cry out.
“Lord almighty! Take it easy!” Maddy yelled, unable to stop herself. “He’ll do what you say! Just give him a chance!”
She nodded at Rick as he sank down, hands still raised above his head. Each of her breaths came hard and fast. Her knees felt as liquid as the tepid wave that crawled up the beach to swirl around her ankles for a couple of seconds, leaving a crab to scuttle after it when it retreated back across the sand.
“All of you, put your hands behind your backs!” Masked Man Four bellowed. Then he sucked his teeth like he had something stuck in them. It was a tic. A disgusting habit that left a sour taste on Maddy’s tongue.
, she decided, complying with his command.
When she felt her captor tighten a zip tie around her wrists—his hands were warm, sweaty, but his touch chilled her to the bone—she was brought back around to her original thought…
“I said ” the guy—correction: the —who’d yelled at Sally Mae bellowed at the teen again, causing Sally Mae’s mouth to gape open like a ugly wound even when no other sound emerged.
“Don’t you holler at her!” Maddy shouted. Then she winced when Masked Man Four left Rick to take a menacing step in her direction.
Full darkness had long since fallen. The only light on the island glowed from the crescent moon, the few spotlights on the seawall surrounding the moat, which in turn surrounded the fort, and the small lighthouse atop the garrison that warned away passing vessels. But all combined, it was enough illumination to show the threat in the man’s eyes as he leaned close.
“In case you missed it, honey.” His words were slightly muffled because the balaclava he wore was ninja style. The kind that covered everything but his eyes. Even so, she heard him clearly enough and thought, not “You’re not calling the shots here. are. So keep that pretty mouth of yours shut, or I might be tempted to put it to better use.” He sucked his teeth again, and Maddy was reminded of the sound a rattlesnake made when it readied itself to strike.
“Don’t you h-hurt her!” Rick gritted.
Masked Man Four—apparently he was the leader since he was doing most of the talking—looked over at Rick, his eyes cold and dark and devoid of any human emotion. Rick swallowed and tried his best to hold the masked man’s gaze. In the end, he couldn’t manage it. He dropped his eyes to the sand in front of him, his dark hair shadowing his face.
“That’s what I thought.” Masked Man Four nodded, his voice cold enough to freeze an open flame. Then he turned his attention to his cohorts. “I think we’re finally ready.” Maddy was fairly certain she was going to hear that sound in her nightmares.
“Time to head out to the boat?” The other man who was guarding the girls spoke for the first time, his Southern accent thick and telling of a youth spent south of the Mason-Dixon Line. If Maddy had to make a guess, she’d say Georgia or Alabama.
Of course where he grew up wasn’t important because… She knew the worst possible thing she could do was allow the masked men to take them to a secondary location. That was pretty much How To Survive Attempted Abduction 101.
“Please,” she beseeched Masked Man Four. Like the Temptations sang, she wasn’t too proud to beg. “If it’s money you want—”
“I warned you what I’d do if you didn’t keep your pretty mouth shut, didn’t I?” The barrel of Masked Man Four’s machine gun was suddenly an inch from Maddy’s nose. Her eyes crossed when she attempted to stare down its black throat.
It was hard to determine if the soundsshe heard were the waves shushing against the beach or her own blood pounding in her ears. She stopped trying to figure it out when the strangest thing happened. Movement in the surf caught her attention. And if her hands hadn’t been tied behind her back, she would’ve used them to rub her eyes.
Suddenly he was there.
Like the great god Poseidon himself rising from the sea, water sheeting off his dark head and broad shoulders. Her friend. Her hero. The man who had stormed into her life like a hurricane.
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